Date: 04/2023

Award-winning Norfolk producer Mark Means achieved 16.2t/ha from the new hard Group 4 wheat DSV Champion in AHDB trials on his farm last year, some 0.9t/ha more than the average of the other varieties involved.

This season he has underlined his faith in the variety by growing a fully commercial crop on his farm at Terrington Marsh.

The family business currently has 32ha dedicated to the variety which having  topped the Candidate List in 2021/22 went on to record the highest overall yield on the 2022/23 Recommended List.

On the current 2023/24 RL, DSV Champion is the highest yielding hard Group 4 wheat.

J. S. Means (Terrington) Ltd has farmed at Terrington Marsh since 1963, when the farm consisted of 200 hectares divided between 23 fields producing a variety of arable crops, together with strawberries, gooseberries, and orchards.

Today, Mark is the third generation of his family to manage the business, which now also share farms or rents a further 600ha within a 10-mile radius and north of the A47.

Cropping is currently 560ha of winter wheat, 140ha of sugar beet, 80ha of potatoes for three major supermarkets, 40ha of vining peas, has 20ha of environmental sites and is currently reclaiming 20ha from daffodils that will go into wheat production.

 “When it comes to growing wheat, we are quite experimental and being so close to The Wash our focus is on earlier varieties," Mark explains."

"Our aim is to grow crops which intercept as much sunlight as possible to maximise yield but without creating too much biomass to minimise the risk of lodging on our silty clay soils."

"Being just 3m above sea level this farm has moisture two metres down and that combined with the fact that temperatures here were not as high and didn’t last as long as in some inland areas was our saving grace last year, when we achieved exceptional yields."


Impressive results

Mark says he was initially impressed by what others were saying about DSV Champion and liked the look of it in the 2021/22 RL trials on the farm.

"The AHDB plots were in a field of wheat on silty clay loam following vining peas and drilled on 11 October. Crop treatments followed RL protocols with the objective of no disease and our yields were approximately 10% above the next highest in RL trials."

"Our winter wheat plots averaged 15.33t/ha and DSV Champion achieved 16.2t/ha, which gave me confidence that this new variety would yield well in a commercial situation and I would have no worries about disease."

"We don’t see much Orange Wheat Blossom Midge (OWBM) here but I don’t want to take the risk, so the fact that DSV Champion is resistant is a bonus."

When selecting winter wheat varieties, the key traits Mark looks for are yield, together with efficiency of nitrogen use, the aim for feed wheat being to achieve 10.5% to 11% protein for optimum yield.

Standing power is another important characteristic, as failure in this area can reduce yield by 25% and more  if it goes badly wrong.

“In a normal year we apply 200kgN/ha to 240kgN/ha on feed, second and continuous wheats. Applying nitrogen early in the spring it is like lighting a bonfire - once it goes on and the crop gets going you can’t stop it, but just have to guide it as best you can."

"We have an N sensor on our sprayer, use a nitrogen tester to prevent over-application, map for high/low lodging risk and treat accordingly, but sometimes things happen that are outside our control."

“Increasingly, we are looking to grow more continuous wheat as some fields with a high clay content are too heavy for potatoes and the window for lifting sugar beet is short, so why risk causing long-term damage to soil structure?"

“When it comes to winter wheat our focus is on growing feed varieties and minimising road miles. In that respect we are better placed than most, with large feed mills on our doorstep and milling outlets not too far away at Holbeach, Peterborough and Downham Market."

Whilst DSV is a relative newcomer when it comes to winter wheat, Mark believes the company has a very promising breeding programme.

"Theodore, a hard Group 4, was the first DSV variety that we identified as a potential to grow because of its cleanliness and ability to remain green to maximise sunlight capture, the only reason we didn’t grow was its bushel weight."

"Being next to the sea we are always looking to protect against fusarium and if we can, it reflects positively on bushel weight. DSV Champion has really taken the game on several stages."

“I am very comfortable with the 32ha of DSV Champion that we currently have in the ground as our first commercial crop of this new variety. It's got off to a very good start this season, so now we will just have to wait and see how it goes through to harvest."


Sustainability focus - box out

Sustainability is embedded throughout every aspect of its operations and in 2022 Mark was named Sustainable Farmer of the Year at the British Farming Awards.

The judges praised Mark for making improvements to soil organic matter, rainwater harvesting and renewable energy on the family farm, as well as integrating environmental management practices into its arable and vegetable production.

“Soil is our greatest asset and ultimately provides our income," Mark says. "They range from silty loam to silty clay with an average pH of 8 – 8+ and indices of 2 and 3 for P and K, so looking after them is the main priority and all decisions are based around that principle."

"Efficiency is another key area we focus on to reduce our carbon footprint, and incorporating more sustainable practices has helped to boost soil health as well as commercial profitability."

“Wheat is the best cultivator and subsoiler that this farm has, so our aim is to create rooting structures which are as deep and adventurous as possible to maximise the plants’ opportunity to access nutrients and water."

"It can take at least two years to bring land back into good heart after sugar beet and wheat is a key part of restructuring the soil."

"Currently, we are experimenting with catch crops and have found that phacelia is like a power harrow the way it breaks up and conditions the top layer. We are still learning but want to include other deeper rooting species."

“I am paranoid about the need to look after the soil and improve organic matter, something my father instilled in me."

"We don’t have livestock but currently bale some straw for sale, although that might change if we cannot raise organic matter levels by other means."

"So far, we have increased it by one per cent, which has made the soil more resilient to adverse weather, but there’s a limit to how far we can go and on this land it’s probably 4% to 4.5%."